Scott Williams: The Democrats should stop, look and listen

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a primary night election rally in Essex Junction, Vt., Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ Donald Trump.

No, the two men do not share the same character nor temperament. However, like Trump, Sanders’ rise is a symptom of a deep seated anger and frustration within the American body politic.

With the decisive affirmation of Joe Biden by a critical pillar of the Democratic base, African American voters, and a coalescing of the other candidates around the former vice president, it is critical for the Democrats to witness the sentiments of Bernie’s supporters and create a lane in the political process for those voices to be heard and validated.

Both Trump and Bernie captured long-simmering resentments and disenchantment with the direction of our government; one exploited it, the other sought to build upon it. It’s clear that the political undercurrents unforeseen or ignored by the political elite are real, and still present.

If handled right, and I believe politics should be the art of the possible, Democrats have an opportunity frame a clear and important vision of the future for America. It will require some deep thinking and serious examination of not only the energized left, but, yes, the energy that fuels the Trump voter, too.

Bernie strikes a sharp chord with citizens who feel the government and political leaders have behaved unjustly, are a self-absorbed mass of operatives, agendas, special interests and political sycophants who use the powerful tools of government to protect their own political and economic interests. Trump struck at a deeply rooted distrust and anger that government is a burgeoning monster seeking to wring out American individualism and freedom across social, regulatory and cultural lines.

Heather Cox Richardson, a Boston College political science professor, has written thoughtfully on this struggle between the New Deal policies that lifted the nation out of the Depression verses the more rugged individualism of Manifest Destiny that is equally a part of the American narrative.

Perhaps it is time to look at both visions of America for their benefits and weaknesses, and draw up a new approach better suited for the world that exists today, one that cries out for a fresh type of American leadership.

Bernie’s youthful following is energetic and seeking to make their mark. They have been raised with a cultural imperative to get a college education yet, setting that noble goal aside, have we created a system that is unaffordable and saddles a generation with debt instead of promoting their dreams?

Trump is right that immigration should be legal and China should be held accountable for its trade practices, but his solutions lack sophistication. Why spend billions on a construction project and ignore the proven lessons of history, where American leadership and thoughtfulness, and wealth, transformed Germany and Japan into productive allies. We should be investing in Central America, not walling it off.

Trump’s politics are not aspirational and pit us against ourselves. Bernie asked us to go bold; we may not be able to afford his ideas but at least they push us to think about being a better nation.

One might suggest that the campaign-industrial complex has mastered the art of slicing and dicing the electorate, successfully siloing us from our values and diversity born of freedom, so that we fret only about our self-interests. Where once country was important, the tribal nature of our politics drives us further apart while campaign consultants rake it in.

The silver lining here is that Mike Bloomberg’s self-funded campaign proved that you can’t buy a nomination. Biden demonstrated that sometimes good old fashion personal politics can make the difference.

Which brings us to the current moment, where the Democratic Party has an opportunity to forge a new personal accord with the country. Bernie’s proposals may be too expensive, overreaching or politically difficult to ever be enacted into law (remember, Obamacare was shoved through with a party line vote, creating discord, not consensus), but the aspirational values expressed in his political space should not be dismissed.

Nor should those deeply held sentiments by Americans concerned that their government cares only about others, not them, not their faith, not their non-urban life, or simply doesn’t care at all.

How ironic that the clarion call came from African American voters, loud and clear. Who better to frame the debate than the one group of Americans who have endured (and continue to endure) the injustices of our nation’s struggle to become a more perfect union. Martin Luther King’s words echo loudly today, as the nation is asked to look deeply at the content of its character.

If Democrats listen to what Bernie and Trump voters are asking, and take this moment to truly forge a new American narrative that speaks to justice and equality, that promotes fairness and respect for all, that demands accountability of our institutions, public and private, that honors and nurtures the American individual as well as our powerful potential to be, from many, one great nation, then we will not only truly serve our own interests, but the wellbeing of the world to come.

A native of Utah, Scott Williams is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C.

Scott Williams, a Utah native, is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C.